FORT HOOD, Texas – Thousands of soldiers stationed at Fort Hood are receiving extra visits from their superiors this week following a recent spate of suspected suicides, according to the Texas Army post's senior commander.
Fourteen suicides among soldiers stationed at Fort Hood have been confirmed so far this year. Six more are suspected, including four in the past week, according to figures released by the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. The Army reported 11 suicides of Fort Hood soldiers in 2009, down from the previous record high of 14 in 2008.
The task force did not return calls Wednesday seeking the number of suicides reported at other Army bases so far this year.
Maj. Gen. William Grimsley said Fort Hood soldiers from the rank of sergeant and below — more than 32,000 soldiers — would be visited in their barracks or off-post homes this week to get "a better sense" of how they are doing. Their superiors also will make sure weapons privately owned by soldiers are properly registered, Grimsley said.
He said he does not know what may have caused the rash of apparent suicides, but that soldiers who take their own lives often are struggling with financial or relationship problems and multiple deployments. Grimsley said Fort Hood leaders also plan to offer more training on how to recognize and help at-risk troops.
"I think the overarching theme is that we as a force are busy doing what we need to be doing on behalf of the nation, and for the first time in our history, we're doing it for the most extended period in our history and with an all-volunteer force," Grimsley said.
The commander sees no correlation between the suicides and the shooting rampage last year that killed 13 and injured dozens more on the sprawling Army post, where 46,500 troops are now stationed. Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5 attack.
"People on the afternoon of the 5th felt their sanctuary was violated ... but the immediate aftermath of that ... is that Fort Hood is incredibly resilient and bounced back immediately," Grimsley said.
In 2009, the Army's 160 reported suicides among active-duty troops was an all-time high, up from 140 in 2008, and the Army has been trying to address the problem.
Fort Hood last year opened its Resiliency Campus, the Army's first multifaceted facility designed to help soldiers and their families prepare better for the stress and uncertainty of being deployed — often for the second or third time.
Before it opened, Fort Hood officials said the facility was not created specifically to combat the Army's rise in suicides. But they said they hoped its various programs would give soldiers and their families many tools to prevent problems that have led to suicides.
Sgt. Cassandra St. Amand, who attended a suicide prevention training seminar at Fort Hood on Wednesday, said she learned ways of recognizing when a "battle buddy" may be considering suicide.
"A lot of soldiers want you to ask them, so you just need to ask," St. Amand said.